Galen on Jews and Christians


The Roman medical writer Galen (129- ca. 199 AD) makes six references to Jews and Christians in his extensive works.  These references have been listed and numbered by Walzer,1 and are given below as follows.


1. Reference 1

From Galen, On Hippocrates' Anatomy (Περὶ τῆς Ἱπποκράτους ἀνατομῆς) in 6 books.  The work is listed in De libris propriis (=On my own works), which tells us that he wrote it during his first stay in Rome, i.e. between 162-166 AD.2

The Greek text is lost, but Hunain ibn Ishaq tells us that he translated it into Syriac.3 The Arabic translation is not known to us today, but material from it is quoted by Ibn Abi Usaibia (d. 1270 AD), in chapter 5 of his work The History of Physicians.4  He in turn was quoting an earlier collection by Ibn al-Matran (d. 1191 AD).5 

Walzer's translation:

They compare those who practise medicine without scientific knowledge to Moses, who framed laws for the tribe of the Jews, since it is his method in his books to write without offering proofs, saying "God commanded, God spake".

Kopf's translation:

He mentions Moses in the fourth chapter of his book "On Anatomy according to the Views of Hippocrates," where he says: "Therefore, physicians of the kind mentioned are comparable to Moses, who gave laws to the Jewish people, for he wrote his books without adducing proofs, he merely said: God has ordered, or, God has said."


2. Reference 2

From Galen, De usu partium, book 11, chapter 14.  This work is also listed in De libris propriis, which tells us that he wrote it at the beginning of his permanent residence in Rome, between the death of the emperor Lucius Verus and the return of Marcus Aurelius from the German wars, i.e., between 169-176 AD.6

The original Greek text of this work has been preserved.7  Hunain Ibn Ishaq translated it into Syriac, and Hubaish then translated the Syriac into Arabic, and Hunain ibn Ishaq then revised that Arabic translation.8 The translation into Arabic still exists, and this portion of it has been printed and translated.9

Walzer's translation. Galen is discussing the unvarying length of the eyelashes and goes on to say:

Did our demiurge simply enjoin this hair to preserve its length always equal, and does it strictly observe this order either from fear of its master's command, or from reverence for the god who gave this order, or is it because it itself believes it better to do this? Is not this Moses' way of treating Nature and is it not superior to that of Epicurus? The best way, of course, is to follow neither of these but to maintain like Moses the principle of the demiurge as the origin of every created thing, while adding the material principle to it. For our demiurge created it to preserve a constant length, because this was better. When he had determined to make it so, he set under part of it a hard body as a kind of cartilage, and under another part a hard skin attached to the cartilage through the eyebrows. For it was certainly not sufficient merely to will their becoming such: it would not have been possible for him to make a man out of a stone in an instant, by simply wishing so.

It is precisely (καὶ) this point in which our own opinion and that of Plato and of the other Greeks who follow the right method in natural science differs from the position taken up by Moses. For the latter it seems enough to say that God simply willed the arrangement of matter and it was presently arranged in due order; for he believes everything to be possible with God, even should He wish to make a bull or a horse out of ashes. We however do not hold this; we say that certain things are impossible by nature and that God does not even attempt such things at all but that he chooses the best out of the possibilities of becoming. We say therefore that since it was better that the eyelashes should always be equal in length and number, it was not that He just willed and they were instantly there; for even if He should just will numberless times, they would never come into being in this manner out of a soft skin; and, in particular, it was altogether impossible for them to stand erect unless fixed on something hard. We say thus that God is the cause both of the choice of the best in the products of creation themselves and of the selection of the matter. For since it was required, first that the eyelashes should stand erect and secondly that they should be kept equal in length and number, He planted them firmly in a cartilaginous body. If He had planted them in a soft and fleshy substance He would have suffered a worse failure not only than Moses but also than a bad general who plants a wall or a camp in marshy ground.


3. Reference 3

From Galen, De differentiis pulsuum (=On the pulse), iii, 3.  The work is listed in De libris propriis 5, and seems to belong between 176-192 AD, or possibly even 176-80.10

The Greek text has been preserved.11 The work attacks frequently the other physicians and philosophical schools in Rome.

Walzer's translation:12

One might more easily teach novelties to the followers of Moses and Christ than to the physicians and philosophers who cling fast to their schools


4. Reference 4

From the same work, Galen, De differentiis pulsuum (=On the pulse), ii, 4.13 

Walzer's translation:12

... in order that one should not at the very beginning, as if one had come into the school of Moses and Christ, hear talk of undemonstrated laws, and that where it is least appropriate.


5. Reference 5

This is from Galen, Εἰς τὸ πρῶτον κινοῦν ἀκίνητον (=On the prime mover). The work is listed in De libris propriis 14, so must have been composed before that work was written in 192 A.D.14

The work is lost, but it was translated into Arabic by Hunain ibn Ishaq.15  The Arabic translation is not known to us today, but material from it is quoted by Ibn Abi Usaibia (d. 1270 AD), in chapter 5 of his work The History of Physicians.4

Walzer's translation:16

If I had in mind people who taught their pupils in the same way as the followers of Moses and Christ teach theirs — for they order them to accept everything on faith — I should not have given you a definition.

Kopf's translation:

Galen further mentions Moses and Christ in his treatise on "The Primum Movens," where he says: "If I had seen people who taught their disciples in the same way as the disciples of Moses and Christ were taught — that is, who ordered them to accept everything on trust — would not have given you any definitions."


6. Reference 6

From Galen, Πλατωνικῶν διαλογων συνόψεις (=Summary of Platonic dialogues), in 8 books; from part 3.  The work is listed in De libris propriis c. 14.17

This work is lost, but a quotation is found in Arabic authors in somewhat different forms.  Hunain ibn Ishaq records that he translated a work in four parts, written by Galen in eight parts, containing summaries of works by Plato.18

The first version is found in Abu Ali Isa ibn Ishaq ibn Zura 19 (known as Ibn Zura, d. 1008 AD), On the main questions discussed between Christians and Jews. 20 Walzer translation:21

Galen ... says at the end of his summary of Plato's Republic: "In the religious community of the followers of Christ there are most admirable people who frequently act according to perfect virtue; and this is to be seen not only in their men but in their women as well." And I see that he admires them for their virtue, and although he is a man whose position is known and whose opposition to Judaism and Christianity is manifest and clear to everybody who has studied his books and knows what he states in them, he nevertheless cannot deny the excellent qualities which the Christians display in their virtuous activities.

Ibn Abi Usaibiah (d.1270) quoting an earlier writer, `Ubayd Allāh ibn Jibrā`īl:22

"...Evidence that Christ lived quite some time before Galen is contained in the following passage of Galen's commentary on Plato's "Republic." 'From this we may infer that the people called Christians derive their faith from signs and miracles. Also, sometimes, they show such behavior as is adopted by philosophers; for fearlessness of death and the hereafter is something we witness in them every day. The same is true of abstention from sexual intercourse. Some of them, both men and women, go their whole life without sexual intercourse. There are among them those who possess such a measure of self-control with regard to food and drink and who are so bent on justice, that they do not fall short of those who profess philosophy in truth.'

Ibn al-Qifti, History of Learned men (published after 1227 AD) has a version of the passage.  Unfortunately no English translation is available. Casiri's Latin translation is as follows:23

Ceterum Galenum post Christum dominum natum floruisse argumento sunt illius in Commentario Libri, De Republica Platonis haec verba: Novimus gentem illam, quae Christiani nuncupantur religionem suam in parabolis et miraculis constituisse.  Cernimus praeterea illos Philosophis in morum disciplina minime cedere: caelibatum, uti et complures eorum mulieres, excolere; in cibo, potuque parsimoniam amare; in jejuniis et orationibus assiduos esse; laedere neminem: adeo ut virtutum et studio, et exercitatione Philosophos longe superaverint. 

Bar Hebraeus, Chronicum Syriacum, and the same material also in the abbreviated Arabic version, Historia Compendosia Dynastiarum.25  Budge's translation of the Chronicum Syriacum:24

And in his time Galen flourished. ... And he saith also in his exposition of Plato's Book of Pedon (Phaedo), 'We have seen these men who are called "Nazraye" (Nazarenes), who found their Faith upon Divine indications (or, inspirations) and miracles, and they are in no wise inferior to those who are in truth philosophers. For they love purity (or, chastity), and they are constant in Fasting, and they are zealous in avoiding the committal of wrong, and there are among them some who during the whole course of their lives never indulge in carnal intercourse. I say that this is a sign of the monastic life which became famous after the Ascension of our Lord, during the period of one hundred years'. (Budge)

Walzer states that Ibn Abi Usaibia, al-Qifti and Bar Hebraeus are all related.  He also says that Bar Hebraeus merely abbreviates al-Qifti, and the presence of "Phaedo" for "Republic" is merely one of Bar Hebraeus' "well known" mistakes.26

The last version is Abu'l Fida', Universal Chronicle, book 3, chapter 3.  This covers history down to 1329 AD.  Latin translation:27

Secundum El-Camil, regnante illo vixit Galenus, quamquam prima vita ejus pars in extremam Ptolemaei aetatem incidit.  Galeni tempore religion Christianorum magna jam incrementa ceperat, eorumque mentionem fecit in libro de sententiis Politiae Platonicae, his verbis: Hominem perique orationem demonstrativam continuam mente assequi nequeunt; quare indigent, ut instituantur, parabolis (narrationes dicit de praemiis et poenis in vita futura exspectandis).  Veluti nostro tempore videmus, homines illos, qui Christiani vocantur, fidem suam e parabolis petiisse.  Hi tamen interdum talia faciunt, qualia qui vere philosophantur.  Nam quod mortem contemnunt, id quidem omnes ante oculos habemus; item quod verecundia quadam ducti ab usu rerum venerearum abhorrent.  Sunt enum inter eos, et foeminae et viri, qui per totam vitam a concubitu abstinuerint; sunt etiam, qui in animis regendis coercendisque et in acerrimo honestatis studio eo progressi sint, ut nihil cedant vere philosophantibus.  Haec Galenus.

Walzer's translation:16

Most people are unable to follow any demonstrative argument consecutively; hence they need parables, and benefit from them and he (Galen) understands by parables tales of rewards and punishments in a future life -- just as now we see the people called Christians drawing their faith from parables [and miracles], and yet sometimes acting in the same way [as those who philosophize]. For their contempt of death [and of its sequel] is patent to us every day, and likewise their restraint in cohabitation. For they include not only men but also women who refrain from cohabiting all through their lives; and they also number individuals who, in self-discipline and self-control in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a pitch not inferior to that of genuine philosophers.

Sprengling's translation:28

According to the Kâmil [of Ibn Athîr] Galen lived in the days of this Commodus, having been born before the death of Ptolemy [literally: "and Galen lived to the time of Ptolemy"].  In his [i.e. Galen's] time the religion of the Christians had become manifest, and Galen mentions them [i.e. the Christians] in his book Remarks on the book of Plato on the Republic, where he says: "The mass of the people are not able to follow the thread of an apodictic discourse, wherefore they need allusive (enigmatic) sayings, so that they may enjoy instruction thereby (by allusive sayings he means the tales concerning rewards and punishments in the world to come). Of this sort we now see the people who are called Christians deriving their faith from such allusive sayings. Yet on their part deeds have been produced equal to the deeds of
those who are in truth philosophers. For example, that they are free from the fear of death is a fact which we all have observed; likewise their abstinence from the unlawful practice of sexual intercourse. And, indeed, there are some among them, men, and women, also, who during the whole of their natural life refrain altogether from such intercourse. And some of them have attained to such a degree of severe self-control and to such earnestness in their desire for righteousness, that they do not fall short of those who are in truth philosophers. Thus far the words of Galen.

Notes

1. ^ R. Walzer, Galen on Jews and Christians, Oxford University Press, 1949.  The text is given on pp.10-16.  Appendix 4 (p.87-98) makes clear the origin of the Arabic quotations.

2. ^ Galen, De libris propriis 1. Edition: Kühn, vol. 19, p. 13 line 6 - p. 14 line 4.

3. ^ G. Bergstrasser, Hunain ibn Ishaq: Über die syrischen und arabischen Galenübersetzungen, text with German translation, 1925.  Online here.  Entry no. 27:

25.    Sein Buch Über das anatomische Wissen des Hippokrates. — Dieses Buch hat er in fünf Teilen abgefaßt; er hat es in seinem Jugendalter für Boethos geschrieben. Er verfolgt darin das Ziel darzulegen, daß Hippokrates mit der Wissenschaft der Anatomie vertraut war, und bringt Belege dafür aus allen seinen Büchern bei. — Übersetzt hatte dieses Buch ins Syrische Aijüb; dann habe ich es übersetzt zusammen mit den Büchern, die ich vorher aufgeführt habe, und habe es möglichst präzis wiedergegeben. Ins Arabische hat es übersetzt Hubais' für Muhammad ibn Müsä.

4. ^ Ibn Abi Usaibia, The History of Physicians, tr. L. Kopf (1956), p.151.  Online here.  The whole passage reads as follows:

I have copied the following from the handwriting of Shaikh Muwaffaq al-Dīn As`ad ibn Eliās, the son of the bishop: The passages in which Galen mentions Moses and Christ: He mentions Moses in the fourth chapter of his book "On Anatomy according to the Views of Hippocrates," where he says: "Therefore, physicians of the kind mentioned are comparable to Moses, who gave laws to the Jewish people, for he wrote his books without adducing proofs, he merely said: God has ordered, or, God has said."

Galen also mentions Moses in his book "The Uses of the Parts [of Animals]" and both Moses and Christ in his "Greater Book of the Pulse," where he says: "Neither a curved piece of wood not an old tree can be straightened; when twisted straight they return to their former shape. So, also, it is easier for a man to teach the people of Moses and Christ than the physicians and philosophers."

Galen further mentions Moses and Christ in his treatise on "The Primum Movens," where he says: "If I had seen people who taught their disciples in the same way as the disciples of Moses and Christ were taught — that is, who ordered them to accept everything on trust — would not have given you any definitions."

There are yet other mentions of them.

5. ^ Walzer, Galen on Jews and Christians, p.87: "The first author whose survey of Galen's statements on Jews and Christians is still at our disposal lived about a thousand years after Galen. He is Muwaffaq ad -Din Astad son of Ilyas (i.e. Elijah) son of al-Matran (i.e. the suffragan-bishop or abbot), a well-known Christian physician, professor of medicine at Damascus and court physician of the famous Ayyubid ruler Saladin; he later became a Muslim, and died A.D. 1191. Ibn al-Matran was the teacher of al-Dakhwar, who in his turn became the teacher of Ibn Abi Usaibi`a..."

6. ^ Galen, De libris propriis 1. Edition: Kühn, vol. 19, p. 19 line 9 ff., p. 15, line 18, p. 19, line 18.

7. ^ Edited: Kühn, vol. 3, p. 904.

8. ^ G. Bergstrasser, Hunain ibn Ishaq: Über die syrischen und arabischen Galenübersetzungen, text with German translation, 1925.  Online here.  Entry no. 49.

... Übersetzt hatte dieses Buch Sergios ins Syrische, und zwar schlecht. Ich habe es ins Syrische übersetzt für Salmawaih. Hubais hat es ins Arabische übersetzt für Muhammad; ich habe einige Teile revidiert und ihre Mängel verbessert, und ich bin (jetzt) bei der Verbesserung des Restes. [Hunain hat nach diesen Worten den siebzehnten Teil dieses Buches ins Arabische übersetzt.]...

9. ^ J. Schacht-M. Meyerhof, 'Maimonides against Galen, on Philosophy and Cosmogony', Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Cairo, vo!. v, part I (1939), p. 82. 14 ff. (English translation, p. 70. 4 ff.).

10. ^ Galen, De libris propriis 5. Edition: Kühn, vol. 19.  Walzer does not indicate the page. Discussion of the date of the work can be found in J. Ilberg, Über die Schriftstellerei des Klaudios Galenos, Rhein. Mus. 44 (1889), p. 218 f.

11. ^ Edited: Kühn, vol. 8, p.657, line 1.

12. ^ Walzer, Galen on Jews and Christians, p.14.

13. ^ Greek text edited: Kühn, vol. 8, p.579, line 15.  The other details are the same as for reference 3.

14. ^ Galen, De libris propriis 14. Edition: Kühn, vol. 19, p. 47, line 6.

15. ^ G. Bergstrasser, Hunain ibn Ishaq: Über die syrischen und arabischen Galenübersetzungen, text with German translation, 1925.  Online here.  Entry no. 125. 

Ich habe es unter dem Kalifat des Wätiq ins Arabische übersetzt für Muhammad ibn Müsä; später habe ich es ins Syrische übersetzt. 'Isä ibn Jahjä hat es ins Arabische übersetzt, weil die Handschrift, die ich früher übersetzt hatte (d. h. die meine alte Übersetzung enthielt), verloren gegangen war. [Dann hat es Ishäq ibn Hunain ins Arabische übersetzt.]

Walzer adds (p.15) that the treatise was translated into Arabic by Hunayn ibn Ishaq, probably before A.D. 847. This translation was destroyed, and he translated it again later on into Syriac. His pupils `Isa ibn Yahya and his son Ishaq made two separate versions of this Syriac translation.

16. ^ Walzer, Galen on Jews and Christians, p.15.

17. ^ Galen, De libris propriis 14. Edition: Kühn, vol. 19, p. 46, line 15.

18. ^ G. Bergstrasser, Hunain ibn Ishaq: Über die syrischen und arabischen Galenübersetzungen, text with German translation, 1925.  Online here.  Entry no. 124. 

Von Büchern aus diesem Gebiet habe ich weiter ein Buch gefunden, das vier Teile enthält von den acht von Galen stammenden Teilen, die die Summarien der Bücher Platon's enthalten. Der erste Teil davon enthält die Summarien von fünf Büchern von den Büchern Platon's, nämlich dem Buch -------- über die Namen, dem Buch -------- über die Einteilung, dem Buch -------- über den Regenten, dem Buch -------- über die Bilderd und dem Buch --------. Der zweite Teil enthält die Summarien von vier Teilen des Buches Platon's über die Politik. Der dritte Teil enthält die Summarien der sechs übrigen Teile des Buches über die Politik und die Summarien des als -------- bekannten Buches über die Naturwissenschaft. Der vierte Teil enthält die Zusammenfassung der zwölf Teile über Lebensweisen von Piaton. — Ich habe die drei ersten Teile für abü Ga'far Muhammad Said ibn Müsä ins Arabische übersetzt. [`Isä hat dies alles übersetzt, und Hunain hat die Summarien des Buches über die Politik verbessert.]

19. ^ See G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Litteratur 2, p.252 ff.

20. ^ Edited by Sbath, p. 35 line 8. Walzer does not provide a proper reference.

21. ^ Walzer, Galen on Jews and Christians, p.91.

22. ^ Ibn Abi Usaibia, The History of Physicians, tr. L. Kopf (1956), p.150.

23. ^  Ed. J. Lippert, Leipzig, 1903. Online here.  No text or translation was provided by Walzer, who mentions the work on p. 92 and p.93:

In addition, Bar Hebraeus is by no means an 'independent witness', since his discussion of Galen's life is nothing but an abridged copy taken from the History of Learned Men by Ibn al-Qifti (published after A.D. 1227), who again attributes the statement to Galen's summary of the Republic. Bar Hebraeus can therefore be eliminated from future discussions of this statement.

The quotation of Ibn al-Qifti's work was first made known by Casiri in his Bibliotheca Arabico-Hispanica.

The reference for the Casiri volume is given as "Madrid, 1760, p. 253".  But the title is actually "Bibliotheca Arabico-Hispana", and it is online in two volumes, vol.1, and vol.2.  The text is actually in vol. 1, p.253-4, here.  The writer continues with a long list of works, which also lists the translator of each into Arabic or Syriac.  The Arabic text follows the Latin translation.

24. ^ Translated E. W. Budge, The Chronography of Gregory Bar Hebraeus, p.53-4.  Online here.

25. ^ E. Pococke Historia Compendosia Dynastiarum (Oxford, 1663).  The passage can be found on p.77 of the Arabic, and a Latin translation is provided.

26. ^ Walzer, Galen on Jews and Christians, p.93.  See note 23 above.

27. ^  Abulfeda, Historia anteislamica, Leipzig, 1832, p.108 (Ar), p.109 (Latin).

28. ^  M. Sprengling, Galen on the Christians, American Journal of Theology 21 (1917), p.94-109, translation on p.96.

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